Law-Diao makes history as first Black person on the board
By Gwendolyn Craig
The state Senate confirmed Benita Law-Diao to the Adirondack Park Agency, making her the agency’s first Black board member in its 50-year history. APA Chairman John Ernst, who has been serving an expired term, was reappointed, as was board member Arthur Lussi.
Gov. Kathy Hochul thanked the Senate on Friday for confirming her appointments.
“With today’s appointments, which includes the historic confirmation of Benita Law-Diao, as the first Black woman to serve on the Board, the APA is poised to add a powerful voice for diversity and inclusion and build on its core mission of preservation and smart growth development for New York’s most treasured asset,” a spokesperson for Hochul wrote.
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The 11-member board includes five seats for Adirondack Park residents, three seats for those living outside the park and three designees from the state Department of State, Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Economic Development. Law-Diao, 62, who lives in Latham, Albany County, will serve as an out-of-park board member, as will Ernst, of Manhattan. The chair receives an annual salary of $30,000. Board members receive a stipend of $100 per day, not to exceed $5,000 a year for their service. They are also reimbursed for expenses.
Law-Diao, a recently retired state Health Department dietician, is an avid hiker and activist. She has organized Adirondacks outings with Outdoor Afro, an organization focused on inspiring and celebrating Black communities to enjoy nature. She is also on the board of John Brown Lives!, an organization that honors the abolitionist John Brown and promotes “social justice and human rights.”
Law-Diao takes the seat vacated by Chad Dawson, who resigned in December 2020. Her term will expire in June 2024. She did not return a request for comment on Friday.
Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed Ernst the Adirondack Park Agency chair in October, although his term expired in June 2021. Ernst’s chairmanship filled a nearly 900-day leadership vacancy. The 81-year-old has served on the board since 2016. He is president and chairman of a private, family-owned New York City investment firm. Though he is an out-of-park board member, Ernst and his wife Margot own Elk Lake Lodge in North Hudson in Essex County. Ernst and his family have been visitors and second home-owners in the Adirondacks for generations. The family gave the state its first conservation easement ever to protect the shoreline of Elk Lake, according to the APA’s website.
“I’m grateful for the governor’s reappointment and for the Senate’s confirmation, and I look forward to continuing to advance the work of the Adirondack Park Agency to the best of my ability,” Ernst said in an email.
Lussi, a resident of Lake Placid and president of the Lake Placid Vacation Corp., will continue to serve as an in-park board member. He is also a board member of the Olympic Regional Development Authority. Lussi was first appointed to the APA in 2006. He did not respond to the Explorer’s request for comment.
The Senate appointments, squeezed in the last hours of the legislative session, bring the 11-member board up to date, though not for long. At the end of June, two board members, Mark Hall and Ken Lynch, will be serving on expired terms.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said Law-Diao’s confirmation was historic. He was not thrilled with the governor’s renomination of Lussi, who is also on the Olympic Regional Development Authority board, and wondered why the same person continued to be appointed to multiple state posts.
“There must be something terribly wrong with Essex County to have no one else with competence to do this work,” Bauer said.
Bauer was not confident that the governor would propose changes for the seats with upcoming expired terms.
“It is still a deeply flawed board and an agency in need of reform,” Bauer said. “Given that the governor re-appointed two people and only added a new person when there was a vacancy, it doesn’t seem that the Hochul administration has an interest or an appetite in helping to reform the APA.”
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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story had the incorrect number of in-park and out-of-park APA members.